I'm thinking of a character who is cursed (magical in nature) so that everything organic that enters his vision is immediately turned to ash, with the exception of his own body (ie, he won't reduce his own eyelids to ash).

The effects of the curse: When I say "everything organic", I mean everything that is, or once was, living. So the assertion that the character would probably starve is correct, though he would still be able to drink water. He would not extinguish stars by looking at them, nor would he turn the Earth itself into ash (though he could kill any grass and insects on the surface). Since microscopic organisms are, by definition, too small to see, they would be spared from the direct effects of the curse.

If the character only sees part of an organic object, then only the part that he sees will be ashed.

Reflections are more complicated; I was initially going to say that reflections would not trigger the effect, but I need a specific scene where the character uses a coin-operated telescope and sees nothing but devastation.

If I rule out all reflections, then the character would be able to use binoculars without triggering the effect. Similarly, I like the idea of the character seeing a person's reflection in a glass door, but finding nothing but ash when he rushes over to them. So my final ruling for now is that reflections do trigger the effect, unless I can think of a way to consistently allow certain reflections (doors/windows/water), but not others.

Video does not trigger the effect. If he sees something on a live video feed, it will not be destroyed. Though any organic (using my above definition of the word) components of the monitor which are visible from the outside would be destroyed.

Being a magical curse, the process defies the laws of physics by being completely instantaneous and silent. There is no radiation or other energy which is emitted from the character, or the objects turned to ash. The effect covers everything to the very edge of his peripheral vision, and the range extends as far as he can discern (if he uses lenses to view farther, the effect will carry farther).

**Question 1: ** Assuming that this character is an average middle-class person living in a modern city, and the effect just starts when they wake up one morning, how long would it take them to determine that they are the cause of the destruction they now see? What would be the sorts of things that would tip them off?

Question 2: Similarly, what sort of radius of destruction would such a person have (assuming they have average vision)?

EDIT 2: Removed my question about the world's reaction. I'm more specifically curious about the radius of damage that would be caused by a person in this situation.

In a city environment, I would think that people higher up in offices and skyscrapers might be able to look down and see the carnage, while still being far enough from the character's "cone of vision" to be affected by it. However, if they tried to shout a warning at him, he'd instinctively look in their direction, which would instantly kill them.

Any non-artificial fabrics would be instantly destroyed, but I'm thinking that things like dental fillings and surgical implants (ie pacemakers and bone pins/screws) would just drop to the ground, covered in ash, with whatever momentum they still had. I know that car tires would be destroyed, but I'm not sure about paint or ink...ie, whether someone would be able to spray-paint a message for him to see.

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    $\begingroup$ This looks a lot like a "please write me this story" – I understand it's not your intention, but you might to tune it. $\endgroup$ – o0'. Sep 9 '15 at 10:28
  • $\begingroup$ Do you have any suggestions on how I could narrow it down? I was trying to keep it similar to other questions I've seen here. $\endgroup$ – Liesmith Sep 9 '15 at 10:32
  • $\begingroup$ You might start writing, i.e. considering what could happen, discarding what doesn't work, refine a bit what works, and then ask here if those implementations actually make sense. $\endgroup$ – o0'. Sep 9 '15 at 10:37
  • $\begingroup$ "everything organic" so the character would starve to death after a few days, if all of the mass murder hadn't tipped him over the edge before that. $\endgroup$ – Steve Bird Sep 9 '15 at 10:41
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    $\begingroup$ Might I be so bold as to suggest a synthetic blindfold. $\endgroup$ – James Sep 9 '15 at 14:20

I'm assuming that "everything organic" means everything with carbon in it according to the chemical definition of "organic".

Question 1: Assuming no pets and no roommates/significant other and no breakfast and a very unusual apartment, it wouldn't take more than two or three steps along the sidewalk to realize that he's the one causing it, especially if this is as an instantaneous effect. Just looking around from the plants on the sidewalk to the trees should prove it. The first person or two he looks at is going to be horrific.

If he has a significant other, after his pillow and sheets, they will be the first thing to go. I'm not sure what this kind of trauma would do to a person. You reach over to touch the person you love, hear them happily moan at your touch, open your eyes and....Ash. Nothing but ash.

If he lives in a timberframe home, then he will be homeless, as will everyone else in his neighborhood as he looks around. If he lives on the bottom floor of a timberframe apartment building, he'll be crushed to death by the weight of the collapsing building as he takes out the surrounding loading bearing walls.

What happens after the initial discovery depends on the character of this cursed individual. If he's malicious and has a bone to pick with society, he can happily go on a walk and wipe the surrounding area clean. Wooden doors offer no resistance so home invasions are easy. Initial police resistance will be futile because most conventional tactics are within the kill zone of a kilometer. However, a SWAT sniper could easily pick him off from beyond the kill zone. The Barret M82 50 caliber rifle has an effective range of 1800 meters.

Military and police threat assessment continues to improve so it won't take them long to figure out the max range of the kill zone or how the power works. Someone with a curse like this is too dangerous to keep alive so they will act to terminate as quickly as possible.

If he doesn't have any kind of mental illness, then he's not going to leave his apartment but will have difficulty making contact with anyone because most phones and computers are made of organic compounds and will turn to ash. Certainly, keyboards and mice are plastic.

Question 2: Without visual obstructions, the maximum range of devastation is about 1.1km. Humans have a visual resolution of about 0.1 degrees. To be safe from this curse, a person just needs to be far enough away that their apparant height is less than 0.1 degrees. Thus, the kill zone is 1.146km. In a city, it's rare to see that far and most people are hidden away in buildings. Initial death toll might be in the hundreds if he decides to go for a walk. However, larger objects such as trees can be seen from much farther away. It's up to the author to decide how he wants to handle trees at distance.


He's either going to kill himself, be killed by the military or police, put out his own eyes or have his eyes put out. Either way, he's dead or blind in relatively short order. Or he starves to death.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, that gives me a lot to think about regarding how to proceed with the story. I think I might need to change the scope of the curse's effects in order to make it more of a tightrope. I'm aiming for a situation where the cursed individual is convinced that he's the sole survivor of some apocalyptic event, and everyone outside his kill zone is convinced that it's some terrorist attack or natural disaster, until they get satellite footage of the initial "cone of death" when he first opened his eyes. $\endgroup$ – Liesmith Sep 9 '15 at 21:22
  • $\begingroup$ If you swapped "cone of death" for "blast radius", you might have better luck. A one time or random interval curse would do nicely. Either way this individual is going to be really really lonely. $\endgroup$ – Green Sep 9 '15 at 21:43
  • $\begingroup$ No, it can't be everything with carbon in it. The question specifies that it is everything that is, or once was, living. One assumes that it also must be similar to its living form, and not merely be atoms that once were part of some living creature. The thing is: steel has carbon in it. Stars specifically do not go out, and many of them have some carbon (particularly the more massive ones). I guess limiting it to things that are mostly carbon would work just as well. $\endgroup$ – Obie 2.0 Sep 10 '15 at 5:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Jonah most plastics come from petrochemicals which are dead dinosaurs (or dead ancient plankton). I see no reason based on the OP to make the assumption that the carbon must be locked up in a form similar to when it was living. Why do you assume that? $\endgroup$ – Green Sep 10 '15 at 11:03
  • $\begingroup$ As I wrote "...and not merely be atoms that once were part of some living creature." It is reasonable to assume that the carbon in things like steel was once part of some living creature. The OP probably does not want steel to be destroyed, as car tires are specified as being destroyed, not the cars themselves. The OP probably does not want sidewalks to be destroyed. But sidewalks in the US are generally made of concrete, which contains calcium carbonate and even fly ash. Once the sidewalks are gone, the soil beneath them is full of carbon. $\endgroup$ – Obie 2.0 Sep 10 '15 at 15:39

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